Obama gave his speech on the NSA scandal a few days ago. I wanted to fisk it because it’s eminently fiskable, and I don’t think that anyone else has done it (though Scott Shackford over at Reason took a stab).
Comments in blockquotes are from Obama’s press conference, the rest are mine (along with referenced quotes to others).
I’m going to take one question.
One whole question? How generous of you! Not only did George W. Bush hold far more press sessions than Obama, I seem to remember him answering a lot more questions at each one as well.
And then remember, people are going to have opportunity to — I’ll also answer questions when I’m with the Chinese president today.
“One, Barack Obama is terrified of the press and refuses to face them on his own. Two, out of fear he is using foreign leaders as props to keep the press from getting out of hand, and to force them to ask questions having nothing to do with his scandals.”
So I don’t want the whole day to just be a bleeding press conference.
How about just one day you have a press conference where you actually answer all the questions reporters have on Benghazi, the IRS, Pigford, and the NSA?
But I’m going to take Jackie Calmes’s question.
Ah, yes, Jackie Calmes. Even among the Obama-philic staff of The New York Times, Colmes stands out for consistently pushing the Obama line, be it the desirability of Keynesian pump-priming deficit spending over fiscal responsibility, Obama’s credentials as a pragmatist, or claiming ObamaCare will reduce the deficit, Obama can always count on Jackie to lend him a helping hand! Imagine Bush only taking one question at a press conference, then calling on Rush Limbaugh or Dennis Miller.
Q: Mr. President, could you please react to the reports of secret government surveillance of phones and Internet? And can you also assure Americans that the government—your government doesn’t have some massive secret database of all their personal online information and activity?
“Could you reassure.” Funny, I thought it was the job of reporters to ask questions to elicit information, not “assurance.” What a nice, slow pitch over the middle of the plate.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Yeah. You know, when I came into this office, I made two commitments that are more than any commitment I make: number one, to keep the American people safe;
I’m sure Ambassador Stephens deeply appreciated those efforts during the last few hours of his life.
and number two, to uphold the Constitution. And that includes what I consider to be a constitutional right to privacy and an observance of civil liberties.
Funny, Mr. Obama’s fervor to uphold the Constitution (especially such “troublesome” sections as the Second and Tenth Amendments) has seemed fairly underwhelming to non-liberal observers, especially compared to his enthusiasm for expanding the size and scope of the federal government, or even reducing his golf handicap.
Now, the programs that have been discussed over the last couple days in the press
Well, there’s a pretty vague formulation. Why not just come out and say “The NSA FISA Prism intercept program?” Is this just an inadvertently vague phrasing, or is it deliberate in order to provide plausible deniability if proven false? Given the extensive revisions the Benghazi talking points underwent, I’m going to go with “deliberate.”
are secret in the sense that they’re classified, but they’re not secret in the sense that when it comes to telephone calls, every member of Congress has been briefed on this program.
Funny, but congressional Republicans have said otherwise, and that they had no idea of the breadth and depth of NSA’s Prism program. Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley (OR) says the same thing. And Obama mouthpiece Jay Carney walked back the “every member” claim. Even so, notice the “when it comes to telephone calls” qualifier, which suggests large swathes of other types of data collection they haven’t been briefed on.
With respect to all these programs, the relevant intelligence committees are fully briefed on these programs.
I can’t actually ding that as a lie, since the intelligence committee people who have talked about it (including Marco Rubio) have sounded supportive of it, even the “hand over all your metadata for all phone customers” portion.
These are programs that have been authorized by broad, bipartisan majorities repeatedly since 2006.
The general NSA program yes. “Obtain the records for every phone call made in America?” Not so much. Also don’t forget that as Senator, Obama himself railed against the government conducting “a fishing expedition through every personal record or private document.” Of course, seizing every record isn’t a fishing expedition, it’s a net-drag operation designed to capture all the fish. And George W. Bush’s NSA director says the program has expanded under Obama.
And so I think at the outset, it’s important to understand that your duly elected representatives have been consistently informed on exactly what we’re doing.
Some representatives, and not “constantly.”
Now, let — let me take the two issues separately. When it comes to telephone calls, nobody is listening to your telephone calls.
This statement is almost certainly false, given that some Americans are almost certainly covered by one of the 1,769 classified wiretap orders filed in 2012.
That’s not what this program’s about. As was indicated, what the intelligence community is doing is looking at phone numbers and durations of calls. They are not looking at people’s names, and they’re not looking at content.
This is almost certainly a lie. I can’t imagine there’s not a name-matching algorithm operating even at this very early stage of metadata sifting.
But by sifting through this so-called metadata, they may identify potential leads with respect to folks who might engage in terrorism.
And the NSA’s idea of “people who might engage in terrorism” is “everyone who owns a Verizon phone?”
If these folks — if the intelligence community then actually wants to listen to a phone call, they’ve got to go back to a federal judge, just like they would in a criminal investigation. So I want to be very clear. Some of the hype that we’ve been hearing over the last day or so — nobody’s listening to the content of people’s phone calls.
The strawman set alight here is so large that Nicolas Cage should be standing underneath it screaming “No, not the bees!” First, as Shackford noted in his piece, ” Nobody said that the program was about listening to telephone calls.” Second, just because you’re not actually listening in, doesn’t mean that you can’t glean data from the metadata, including sensitive and potentially blackmail-worthy data. And, as the IRS scandal shows, there’s no reason for the public to believe that Obama Administration officials won’t abuse such data if they get their hands on it.
There’s that word “fully” again. And there’s a great deal of evidence that court has become little more than a rubber stamp, turning down a whopping .03% of the requests submitted.
And so not only does that court authorize the initial gathering of data, but I want to repeat, if anybody in government wanted to go further than just that top-line data and wanted to, for example, listen to Jackie Calmes’s phone call, they’d have to go back to a federal judge and — and — and indicate why, in fact, they were doing further — further probing.
Again with the listening to phone calls. Handwaving.
Now, with respect to the Internet and emails, this does not apply to U.S. citizens, and it does not apply to people living in the United States. And again, in this instance, not only is Congress fully apprised of it, but what is also true is that the FISA Court has to authorize it.
Given that the NSA intercepts 1.7 billion emails a day, I find it hard to believe that they’re all to or from foreigners, unless an usually high percentage of them are Nigerian princes.
So in summary, what you’ve got is two programs that were originally authorized by Congress, have been repeatedly authorized by Congress. Bipartisan majorities have approved (on them ?). Congress is continually briefed on how these are conducted. There are a whole range of safeguards involved. And federal judges are overseeing the entire program throughout.
For this summary of lies and half-truths, see the fisking of the previous lies and half-truths.
And we’re also setting up — we’ve also set up an audit process when I came into office to make sure that we’re, after the fact, making absolutely certain that all the safeguards are being properly observed.
Which is it? You’ve set it up, or you’re going to set it up? And we should trust you for that same sterling oversight you’ve observed for Benghazi, Pigford, and the IRS? Speaking of “audit processes.” Bad choice of words there, O…
Now, having said all that, you’ll remember when I made that speech a couple of weeks ago
No, as a matter of fact, I don’t. You give so many speeches, and say so little in each of them.
about the need for us to shift out of a perpetual war mindset.
Translation: “I’m a 9/10 Democrat.” How Obama’s love of drone strikes, and his decision to intervene in the Libyan civil war (and now, possibly, the Syrian civil war as well) tie into shifting out of a “perpetual war mindset” remains unclear. As does how we get Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and various other terrorist groups (some backed by the Islamic Republic of Iran) to stop killing Americans. It would probably be quite easy to “shift out of a perpetual war mindset” if fighters for radical Islam weren’t waging perpetual war on us.
I specifically said that one of the things that we’re going to have to discuss and debate is how were we striking this balance between the need to keep the American people safe and our concerns about privacy, because there are some trade-offs involved.
So far the “trade offs” of your foreign policy seem to be “keep fighting long enough to avoid being accused of losing in Iraq and Afghanistan, but not doing enough in either place to actually win.”
And I welcome this debate.
Given how thin-skinned you are, how negatively you react to people criticizing you, and how poorly you performed debating Mitt Romney, I rather doubt that.
And I think it’s healthy for our democracy. I think it’s a sign of maturity, because probably five years ago, six years ago, we might not have been having this debate. And I think it’s interesting that there are some folks on the left, but also some folks on the right who are now worried about it who weren’t very worried about it when it was a Republican president. I think that’s good that we’re having this discussion.
You know what debate we weren’t having 5 or 6 years ago? “Why is the IRS targeting the Administration’s political opponents?” And we weren’t having that debate because George W. Bush wasn’t using the IRS to target his political opponents. Unlike you.
We also weren’t having this debate because we really believed that Bush was committed to fighting the war on terror. Unlike you. Moreover, we weren’t having this debate back when there were 22 classified wiretap orders because that didn’t seem excessive. Now that there are 1,769 classified wiretap orders, under an Administration known for abusing its power, it’s a lot more urgent concern. We didn’t have that debate under a Republican because he didn’t have the documented pattern of abuse of power you do. Was it short-sighted of our representatives to sign off on the more expansive measures of the Patriot Act? Obviously so, though how could they have known your abusive administration was coming down the pike so soon?
But I think it’s important for everybody to understand, and I think the American people understand, that there are some trade-offs involved. You know, I came in with a health skepticism about these programs.
Sure you did…right up until you realized you were in charge of them. See also: Lord Acton.
My team evaluated them. We scrubbed them thoroughly. We actually expanded some of the oversight, increased some of the safeguards.
How convenient that everything is secret so we can’t evaluate these “improvements” your team has made.
But my assessment and my team’s assessment was that they help us prevent terrorist attacks.
Maybe. But how many did they prevent, and at what cost? Which of those 1,769 secret wiretap orders were more effective than the previous 22?
And the modest encroachments on privacy that are involved in getting phone numbers or duration without a name attached and not looking at content — that on, you know, net, it was worth us doing.
I’m sure that Obama feels that any encroachment’s on other people’s privacy are entirely acceptable, just as he feels spending more of other people’s money on higher spending and taxes is just fine and dandy. And I don’t think that gathering phone and email data for every American is “worth doing.” Or constitutional.
That’s — some other folks may have a different assessment of that. But I think it’s important to recognize that you can’t have a hundred percent security and also then have a hundred percent privacy and zero inconvenience. You know, we’re going to have to make some choices as a society.
No one (at least among conservatives or libertarians) believes that you can reach 100% security, because human beings are inherently imperfect creatures. But we’re not asking for “100% privacy,” we’re demanding the level of freedom and privacy guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States of America. And the TSA seems to be closing in on 100% inconvenience for 0% effectivety. 100% privacy and 100% security are both unreachable, but 100% secret surveillance of a free nation’s phone calls and emails is intolerable.
And [all?] I can say is, is that in evaluating these programs, they make a difference [to] anticipate and prevent possible terrorist activity. And the fact that they’re under very strict supervision by all three branches of government and that they do not involve listening to people’s phone calls, do not involve reading the emails of U.S. citizens or U.S. residents, absent further action by a federal court, that is entirely consistent with what we would do, for example, in a criminal investigation.
Both the scandal and the leak of same proves that the supervision isn’t “very strict.”
Once again Obama stands up his “listening to every phone call” and “reading every email” strawmen to give them another pummeling. And I severely doubt that any police department in any city has ever sworn out a warrant that said “give me the phone records for every call in [for example] New York City over the last month.” This is the sort of abuse that can only be carried out by the vast, unaccountable, black budget national security state. Worse still, your Administration’s unwillingness to name and confront the threat posed by radical Islam has made us all less safe still.
I think, on balance, we — you know, we have established a process and a procedure that the American people should feel comfortable about. But again, this — these programs are subject to congressional oversight and congressional reauthorization and congressional debate. And if there are members of Congress who feel differently, then they should speak up.
And we’re happy to have that debate. OK.
Joe the Plumber certainly remembers how “happy” you and your supporters are to have “debates.” Funny how you and your supporters willingness to abuse and leak government information was already on display even before you were elected. We should have taken that as a sign.
That ends the fisking of Obama’s answer to Calmes’ question. This is already so long I think I’ll go ahead and post it, and save the fisking for Obama’s answer to the other question he allowed to a later post.